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Restoration of Civil Rights for Felons

There are nearly 101,000 inmates in state prison in the state of Florida, and within the next twelve months, over one-third of that population will return to society. In addition, another 145,000 felons are currently out of prison on “community supervision” or probation. However, the limitations that come with a felony criminal record often prohibit felons from obtaining state or federal licenses, security clearances, government contracts, better jobs, and even prohibit volunteer opportunities with non-profit or other charitable organizations. As a remedy, petitioning for clemency gives a felon the opportunity to restore their civil rights and overall improve their lives.

What is Clemency?

Clemency is a process that provides a way for convicted felons to be considered for relief from punishment and seek the restoration of their civil rights. It is considered an act of mercy by the state that absolves a felon from all or part of the punishment that the law originally imposed. There are multiple types of clemency, which include:

  • Full pardon;
  • Pardon without firearm authority;
  • Pardon for misdemeanor;
  • Commutation of sentence;
  • Remission of fines and forfeitures;
  • Specific authority to own, possess, or use firearms;
  • Restoration of alien status; and
  • Restoration of civil rights.

Restoration of Civil Rights

Felons in Florida cannot vote, sit on a jury, hold public office, or possess a firearm. In order to get these rights restored, a felon in Florida must apply for “Restoration of civil rights” (RCRs) with the Florida Commission on Offender Review. Obtaining clemency through an RCR can help a felon secure a job, obtain certain clearances, and get state and federal licenses. Recent data indicates that over 375,000 felons have gotten their civil rights restored through an RCR.

RCRs With or Without a Hearing

In March 2011, the Florida Governor and the Board of Executive Clemency made changes to the RCR process that created two separate categories of eligibility. Depending on the type of crime and length of time that a felon has been crime-free, they must apply for an RCR either with or without a hearing.

RCRs without a Hearing

Rule 9.A. of the Florida Rules of Executive Clemency establishes who is eligible for an RCR without a hearing. In order to qualify, “A person may have his or her civil rights or alien status under Florida Law restored . . . without a hearing if the person has committed no crimes and has not been arrested for a misdemeanor or felony for five (5) years from the date of completion of all sentences and conditions of supervision imposed.”

RCRs with a Hearing

Rule 10.A. of the Florida Rules of Executive Clemency dictate who must apply for an RCR with a hearing. If the felon commits one of 35 serious crimes or has been declared a sexual predator, habitual or violent felony offender they must be crime-free for at least seven years before application in addition to completing a hearing.

The clemency board meets quarterly and reviews between 350-400 cases per year. It considers six factors during the hearing to determine whether or not to grant clemency to an applicant:

  • Nature of the offense;
  • History of any mental instability, drug, or alcohol abuse;
  • Any subsequent arrests including traffic offenses;
  • Employment history;
  • Delinquent on outstanding debts or child support; and
  • Support or opposition letters.

Public Service Announcement from Gary Roberts & Associates, P.A. in West Palm Beach, FL.

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